SEA TROUT FLIES

A look at sea trout flies, both traditional and modern, as used for sea trout day and night fly fishing primarily on British rivers and lochs, featuring examples of traditional Scottish sea-trout loch fly patterns and some of the famous flies popular over the years on sea trout and sewin rivers throughout the UK, together with modern developments in seatrout fly and lure design, particularly for night fishing; the growth in the popularity of the tube fly, with particular reference to the background and development of Gray's Needle Tubes and Needle Tube Flies specifically designed with night sea trout fly fishing in mind.

Sea Trout Tube Fly

Sea Trout  Fly

Sea Trout Microtube Fly

Sea Trout flies by Grays of Kilsyth

Early Sea Trout Fly Fishing

Throughout the last century, sea trout fishing was practised on rivers and lochs in the UK and Ireland, on the once famous sea trout lochs of the north west highlands of Scotland, on the great western Irish loughs and on rivers up and down the country, from Sutherland to Cornwall; on the Scottish Islands, on the lochs of Lewis, Harris and the Uists and in the coastal waters of Orkney and Shetland. Fly fishing was the most popular method, drift fishing on the lochs using traditional sea trout flies or dapping with the long rod in a good wind. With the exception of some areas, for example in Wales, where the primary game angling species was the sea trout or sewin, sea trout catches on our rivers were largely incidental to salmon fishing. Night river fishing was a relatively minor aspect of the sport, or at least less well publicised than the daytime fishing. Although early writers such as Jeffery Bluett (Sea Trout and Occasional Salmon, 1948) wrote enthusiastically about sea trout night fishing - in Bluett's case on Devon's River Tavy - such nocturnal goings on were generally considered inferior to proper daytime sport. The turning point for many was the publication of "Sea Trout Fishing" by Hugh Falkus in 1962, which inspired a generation to explore the exciting possibilities of night sea trout fly fishing on our salmon and sea trout rivers. That book, together with the later revised and enlarged editions, is still widely regarded as the sea trout fisher's bible, a must read for those in the grip of the glorious obsession that is night sea trout fishing.

Traditional Scottish Sea Trout Flies

Flies for sea trout fishing on the lochs were, for the most part, large versions of trout flies, usually in sizes ten and eight, and very effective they were. R. C. Bridgett, writing in "Sea Trout Fishing", 1929, based on opinion gathered from sea trout fishers the length and breadth of Scotland, listed the ten most popular Scottish sea trout flies as follows: Butcher, Peter Ross, Teal & Silver, Dunkeld, Mallard & Claret, Silver Doctor, Grouse & Claret, Pheasant & Yellow, Blae & Blue and Blae & Black. These same flies were often used by those fishing for sea trout on rivers, by day or night. Indeed, few of today's sea trout fishers would feel unduly deprived if limited to the above sea trout fly selection, perhaps with the addition, for river night fishing, of a few longer lures, dressed on tubes or wire shanks, for late in the night.

Scottish Sea Trout Fly

Mallard & Claret

 

Scottish Sea Trout Fly

Butcher

 

Scottish Sea Trout Fly

Blae & Black

 

Scottish Sea Trout Fly

Dunkeld

 

Scottish Sea Trout Fly

Woodcock & Yellow

 

Scottish Sea Trout Fly

Grouse & Green

Sea Trout Tube Flies

Tube flies have gained a fair degree of momentum in recent years, not only for sea trout fishing but for salmon, steelhead and other predatory species, both in fresh and saltwater. The tube fly has, of course, been around in various forms for a long time and has been put to good use in a variety of situations, whether for early spring salmon fishing, where the weight of a long heavy copper slipstream tube helped to get the fly down in high, cold water; for low water summer salmon, where a light mobile fly dressed on short plastic tube was the order of the day; or for late night summer sea trout fishing, where a long sparsely dressed aluminium tube might be required to search the depths of a sea trout pool. Slow sinking plastic tubes have also found their uses in sea trout night fishing where they might be fished at varying speeds in or just under the surface on mild nights when the sea trout were up and active, or allowed so sink slowly on an intermediate line to search out the deep lying sea trout when things have gone quiet late on a summer's night.

Sea Trout Tube Fly

A simple black and silver sea trout needle tube fly

The tube fly offers some important advantages over lures dressed more conventionally on hooks or on wire shanks. Firstly, a tube may be selected of a particular length, weight, material and diameter to suit virtually any fishing situation. Secondly, a tube may be armed with a variety of hooks, be they single, double or treble, barbed or barbless, of which there are a wide range now made specifically for the purpose. The chosen hook may be allowed to swing freely behind the tube or it may be fixed in position by means of a flexible silicone hook link, reducing the likelihood of the hook hold working loose through leverage. In the event that the hook should become damaged, it is easily replaced, thus extending the useful life of the tube fly. Until recent years, however, the choice of tubes available for fly tying was fairly limited and, for sea trout fishing especially, where I have always looked to present my quarry with a slim, sparse, impressionistic offering, seemed to me to be generally rather bulky.

The Needle Fly

This led me, in the late nineteen nineties, to experiment with alternative options, which led, in the first instance, to the development of the Needle Fly, as described in the article "Needles for Sewin", Trout & Salmon magazine, September 1999. I sought then to devise a long slim lure, slimmer than the then currently available tubes and Waddington shanks, more easily and cheaply made, which would serve for late night fishing, at the time on the River Earn. It would have the following properties:

  • It would be as slim as possible
  • It could be made in varying lengths and weights
  • It would be armed with a treble hook which would be easily attached and changed when necessary
  • It would be light enough to cast easily on a single handed rod
  • It would be easy to construct using inexpensive and readily available components

The result was the Needle Fly, as shown below.

Sea Trout Needle Fly

The Needle Fly

In the following decade, the needle fly accounted for the majority of my sea trout, on the Rivers Earn, Border Esk and Spey.

Spey Sea Trout

One of four Spey Sea Trout taken on a Needle Fly one night in June 2007

 

More Needle Flies

Sea Trout Needle Fly

A Needle Fly - simple, sparse and slim

 

Sea Trout Needle Flies

Needle Flies for Sea Trout and Salmon

 

Read more about the development of the Needle Fly

HMH Tube Fly Tool

The HMH Tube Fly Tool is an inexpensive, yet extremely practical and versatile tube fly adaptor, which may be easily fitted to any fly tying vice, to hold a range of tubes securely for dressing a wide variety of tube flies.

Resources

Sea Trout Fishing

Trout & Salmon Flies

Sea Trout Flies

Tube Flies

Sea Trout Tube Flies

Salmon Flies

Trout Flies 

The Tube Fly Shop

Fly Tying

Trout & Salmon Fishing

Fly Fishing Knots

 

Modern Sea Trout Flies

As the century progressed, increasing numbers of fishermen took to sea trout fishing, many specialising in night fly fishing through the all-too-short summer nights. Sea trout flies evolved, new fly patterns and designs appeared, each for its own purpose or river. As early as 1948, Bluett listed a selection of specialist sea trout flies, some devised by him for night fishing on the Tavy. In addition to tried and trusted patterns such as the Butcher and Mallard and Claret, these included General Eagle's Fairy, the Martyr, Magpie, Bluett's Fancy, the Owl and others. To these he added two lures:  the Tavy Lure, tied in tandem on two connected single hooks and the Alexandra Lure, dressed on three connected singles. For the most part, his flies were tied short, with no tails and with wings extending no further than the bend of the hook, a departure from the traditional patterns. Bluett's view was that "these patterns can be relied upon to kill fish in varying conditions of water and weather in rivers of the Tavy type". All the while, new sea trout flies and tactics were evolving on other rivers along similar lines, e.g. the tandem "Terror" lures as used as early as the 1930s on the Ythan estuary in north east Scotland, while Wales's rich sea trout tradition has produced many renowned fly patterns. Among the most popular and effective of sea trout flies used in modern times is the Silver Stoat, a Stoat's Tail dressed with a silver body, dyed black squirrel tail often being substituted for the stoat.

Sea trout Singles for Night Fishing

Mallard and Silver Sea Trout Fly

Mallard and Silver

 

Stoat's Tail Fly

Stoat's Tail

 

Silver Stoat Fly

Silver Stoat

 

The Impact of Falkus

Although much of what Falkus wrote in 1962 drew on the earlier writing of Bluett and others, he brought a freshness and structure, a strategy to the whole business of night sea trout fishing, breaking a night's fishing into stages, each with its own tactics and flies, varying with the changing conditions and behaviour of the sea trout. His knowledge and extensive experience, gained over many nights on his beloved Cumbrian Esk, allied to his undeniable talent as a writer, caught the public imagination, and inspired many trout and salmon fishers to embark on this exciting new branch of fly fishing. He introduced a range of sea trout flies and lures, each designed to meet certain conditions during the course of a night's sea trout fishing. They included the Medicine, the Secret Weapon, the Sunk Lure and the Surface Lure. These have since been adopted, in various forms, as a basic starting point around which to built a selection of flies for night sea trout fishing throughout the summer season. With the exception of the secret weapon, now largely redundant given the decline in the use of maggots, which are now banned on most sea trout rivers, these flies/lures, or others designed for the same job, will be found in most sea trout fly boxes. There will be the single hooked flies, in varying sizes up to about size 4. Anything longer will often now be dressed on tubes, needles, wire shanks or as variants of the sunk lure, often employing a body of nylon monofilament or braid with a treble hook at the tail end, as in the snake lure. The surface or wake lure, in its various forms, often features prominently, on some rivers more than others. The cork and balsa of Falkus's time are often now replaced with foam or deer hair in their construction to create a range of floating lures, from the simple Muddler Minnow through to larger lures often employing a trailing treble hook, such as the Jambo. 

Medicine Fly

Medicine

 

Sea Trout Secret Weapon

Secret Weapon

 

Sea Trout Sunk Lure

Sunk Lure

 

A Wake Lure

Wake Lure

Sea Trout Needle Tube Flies

My attention then turned to the possibilities offered by tubes. Given the undoubted merits of the tube fly, I wondered if it would be possible to make a really slim tube fly which would do the same job as a Needle Fly. In collaboration with Dave Wallbridge, who shared my keen interest in sea trout night fishing, I began to explore the possibilities of using fine stainless steel tubes, hypodermic needle tubing in fact, which is made in a whole range of diameters and weights, with outside diameters down to less than 1.0 mm. The problem, of course, would be to find a way of lining such fine steel tubes, which would otherwise cut through a nylon monofilament fly leader in no time. The fine bore of the slimmest of these tubes precluded the use of a conventional plastic liner. Our solution was to shield the sharp tube ends by using very fine heat shrink tubing at both ends of the tube. This worked very well, as described in our article on Micro Tubes .

Micro Tube Fly

A Micro Tube Fly

Our Micro Tube flies, with outside diameters of around 1 mm, were extremely effective but it was only feasible to make them on a very small scale. Would it be possible, I wondered, to make a more conventional type of tube, of slim stainless steel hypodermic needle tubing lined conventionally with a plastic liner, with a view to making them available in quantity? More experiments followed, leading ultimately to the development of the Needle Tube, as described in the article "A Shot in the Arm", Trout & Salmon Magazine, May 2008 and since made in Scotland by Grays of Kilsyth, in diameters of 1.5 mm and 1.8 mm, and in lengths from 10 mm to 40 mm.  

Sea Trout Snake Tubes

A few Sea Trout Needle Tube "Snake Flies" 1.5 mm diameter

 

Sea Trout Needle Tube Flies

A selection of slim sea trout needle tube flies

 

Teal Blue and Silver Tube Fly

A Teal Blue and Silver tube fly variant

These are not quite as slim as our earlier micro tubes but much slimmer than other metal tubes currently made for fly tying. The thin stainless steel tubes (1.5mm outside diameter) are ideal for the purpose, sinking more readily then either plastic or aluminium but fishing a little less deeply and more attractively than the heavier copper or brass tubes, and I am pleased to report that they have proved extremely successful both at home and abroad, accounting for many notable catches of salmon, steelhead and, of course, sea trout.  I was delighted to receive a report, in early June 2013, of a remarkable catch of sea trout, taken in one night session by Dart Angling Association Chairman Mr Julian Sharpe, from the Totnes Weir pool of the River Dart in Devon on a needle tube fly of his own dressing. The catch consisted of four sea trout, fresh off the tide, weighing 4.5 lbs, 5.5 lbs, 8 lbs and 12 lbs. Truly a catch of a lifetime. For more catch reports, see Needle Tube Fly Fishing

Below is a step by step sequence showing how to tie a simple but very effective sea trout tube fly. For night fishing, colours are largely unimportant and may be varied to taste. Some contrast in tone may be provided by combining a dark and light shade, e.g. black and white, perhaps with a little added reflective material such as Krystal Flash to catch what little light may be available.

Tying a Simple Sea Trout Needle Tube Fly

Tying a Tube Fly - step one

Tying a Tube Fly - step two

step 1

step 2

Tying a Tube Fly - step three

Tying a Tube Fly - step four

step 3

step 4

Tying a Tube Fly - step five

Tying a Tube Fly - step six

step 5

step 6

Tying a Tube Fly - step seven

Sea Trout Tube Flies

 The Finished Tube Flies

 
Spey Sea Trout
One of eight Spey sea trout caught on a black and silver Needle Tube Fly in two hours fishing, June 23rd 2014
 
 
 

The Sea Trout Flies of Wales

Sea trout, or sewin, fishing vies with rugby as the Welsh national sport and has produced many a famous sea trout fly. Rivers such as the Towy, Teifi, Dovey and Conway have seen a multitude of sea trout patterns devised for use on their particular river, many as popular today as they ever were. Many famous sea trout patterns emerged, some for use, like the traditional Scottish patterns, primarily during the daytime. These include the Dai Ben, Harry Tom, Tywi Topper, Teifi Terror and Conway Silver, many illustrated in "Successful Sea Trout Angling" by Graeme Harris and Moc Morgan, first published in 1989. A great many patterns were devised for general night fishing on the rivers of Wales, sub surface lures dressed on single hooks most commonly in sizes 10 to 4, predominantly with squirrel hair wings, either natural grey or dyed black, with bodies of silver tinsel or black floss with a silver ribbing. This kind of fly was, and still is, among the most used, and most effective, of our sea trout flies. Welsh flies of note include the Haslam, Dovey Black and Orange, Conway Red and Moc's Cert. Mention might also be made of the "Marchog" or "Knight" series of lures, large lures dressed on size 2 main hook, and incorporating a flying treble to enhance hooking capability, especially when the sea trout are "coming short". More recently, John Graham's Jambo lure has gained widespread favour and something of a reputation as a wake lure while, today, many talented and innovative Welsh sewin fishers continue to create new designs and patterns, combining the best of the old and the new.

Squirrel Hair Wing Flies for Sea Trout Night Fishing

Squirrel Winged Sea Trout Flies

Colour in Sea Trout Night Flies

So today's sea trout fisher has a great many flies to choose from, or he may dress his own to taste and to meet the specific requirements of his own fishing. It is worth noting, however, that, if the fly is to be used in the generally more productive hours of darkness, it is debatable whether colour matters at all. As sea trout are no more capable of distinguishing colour at night than we are, the use of colour in our night flies is largely meaningless. Colours will be seen simply as varying shades of grey and it might be reasonably argued that coloured fly tying materials, hair and hackles are superfluous, except perhaps for their value in creating slight tonal variation. Flies of black, or perhaps black and white, with a silver body or rib, will generally be as effective as any other. Still, the use of colour in our sea trout flies can do no harm and, in addition to providing a bit of useful variation in flies intended for both night and daytime use, offers an opportunity for close season creativity on the part of the fly tyer.

What sea trout see?

Sea Trout Fly in daylight

Sea Trout fly at night

DAY

NIGHT

   

A Tube Fly in Daylight

A Tube Fly by night

DAY

NIGHT

   

Gray's Needle Tubes and boxed selections of sea trout flies and salmon and sea trout Needle Tube Flies are available online from Grays of Kilsyth

 
 
 

Sea Trout Flies